In my work-day world of estate planning in St. Louis, Missouri, creating peace of mind for my clients and their loved ones, during all seasons of life, is my focus. I am primarily thinking about protecting my clients and their families in the event of a mental disability and after death. But because I spend significant time thinking about death, dying and illness – I also spend time thinking about living, and how best to spend our precious time on this earth leading a joyful, well-lived life.
One way I help myself focus on this question, instead of the bumpy road of everyday living, is practicing mindfulness. To be clear, I’m a mindfulness newbie. Although I’ve flirted with the idea over several decades, it’s not until recently that I’ve given it consistent practice. And some days my consistent practice consists of a minute of paying attention to my breathing and my thoughts. But it does seem to help me recenter my focus on the truly important over the merely noisy – which gives me some peace of mind. So, here’s my take on mindfulness meditation in a nutshell, and why you might consider it too.
Mindfulness meditation has been used for thousands of years to help cultivate peace of mind. Research shows that by engaging in the practice of mindfulness, one can become better equipped to cope with life’s difficulties, manage stress and anxiety, and even cultivate contentment and joy. Mindfulness meditation encourages awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and environment in a non-judgmental way. Through mindfulness practice, one can recognize and work through the underlying emotions and beliefs that may be creating inner turmoil and investigate a less reactive and more compassionate response. Mindfulness meditation teaches the art of allowing rather than avoiding, and the power of honoring one’s inner experience. It can lead to a state of peacefulness and wellbeing by replacing fear and judgement with understanding and kindness.
To begin practicing, start by finding a comfortable place to sit or lie down, away from potential distractions. It can be helpful to set a timer for your mindfulness meditation practice to ensure that you don’t become too distracted by the passing time. Next, bring your awareness to your breath and focus your attention on the inhalation and exhalation. As emotions and thoughts arise, gently acknowledge them, allowing them to pass through without reacting. There are many ways to do this, but I like thinking of the thoughts and emotions as fall leaves going by on a stream. Sometimes my leaves (thoughts) get stuck, and when that happens I give them an extra nudge down the stream and go back to focusing on my breath. When ready, bring your awareness back to the breath, continuing to focus and notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation.
It also may be helpful to remind yourself that it’s not a competition, it’s a practice and there’s no winning or losing. There’s just practice, presence and patience. For me, just a few minutes watching the swirling of my thoughts and emotions, and recognizing that I’m focused on the past (so nothing can be done now) or worried about the future (that’s not helpful either because my worrying won’t fix anything), helps me refocus on the present, where I can actually effect change, lead my best life and hopefully help those I care about lead their best lives too.
There are many fantastic resources on mindfulness. I don’t have the time or space to list all of the ones I like, but recently I’ve been reading David Gerken. His writing is very accessible and full of practical, real-life examples of how mindfulness can be useful everyday.
Call a dedicated estate planning attorney to create peace of mind by helping you and your loved ones prepare or update your estate plan, trust, will or powers of attorney. Contact our St. Louis office at 314-303-3218 if you’d like assistance with developing a comprehensive estate or elder law plan.
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Written March 12, 2023 by Stephanie Martinez